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spent my summers at Hatteras during my younger years, Sunday was not
only a day of rest, but also a day of restrictions, a day of contrasts,
a day of conflicts, a day of enlightenment, and a day to thank God for
it all. Someone was constantly reminding me that Sunday was God's day.
I was sure God had appointed Grandmom to police His day to make certain
that no one in the family did anything that was not appropriate. Often
times, I resented the attention He received through out the day because
it often interfered with what I wanted to do. I tried not to hold that
resentment for too long because I did not want to go to hell.
At least that is what I thought would happen. I learned a lot
about hell from attending Sunday school and revival at the "down below"
church, the Pentecostal Holiness Church. I learned about
heaven at the other church in village, the Methodist Church, although
hell was discussed but with less frequency.
below" was a local name given to the southern end of Hatteras village,
an area that was also known as "sticky bottom." Grandmom and
Pop Pop grew up at "sticky bottom." They started their married life
there, and that is where both their children, Essie and Naomi, were
born. After the death of their parents, Grandmom and Pop Pop decided to
move up the road. Grandmom wanted to live closer to her only surviving
sister. They purchased a house and four acres of land for $400 on the
front road that was directly across the way from Grandmom's sister,
to the early 1950s, there were only two main roads on Hatteras, both of
which were unpaved. They were simply known as the front road,
a sandy lane on the western side of the village near the sound, and the
back road, a similar track on the eastern ocean side. Both
roads extended in more or less a north/south direction. Recently they
have been given official names. Before that, one always
indicated his location in the village as up the road or down the road
from some landmark along either of these thoroughfares.
Therefore, up the road and down the road were relative terms.
Up the road was north of any given landmark and down the road was
moving, Grandmom and Pop Pop attended the "down below"
church. It was just across the marsh from where they
lived. When they moved up the road, they joined the Methodist
Church, which was closer to their home. They attended
regularly for a while but then stopped going. Mama told me
the reason was that Grandmom did not think her clothes were good enough
for the Methodist Church. It seems that someone made fun of her frock
one Sunday and that was the last time she attended. She never felt self
conscious about her attire at the church located "down below," but
since walking was their only method of transportation, the "down below"
church was "just too far." The only time I ever saw Grandmom in a house
of worship was at her funeral in the Methodist Church. I saw
Pop Pop there twice, once at Grandmom's funeral and then at this
own. However, that is not to say that they were not religious.
electricity became available in the late ‘40s, Mama gave Pop
Pop a radio as a Christmas present, and from that time on, early every
Sunday morning, he tuned it to a station to hear some preachin'. There
was never a Sunday at Hatteras that I was not awakened to gospel music
blaring up the stairwell into my bedroom. Usually by the time
I came downstairs to eat breakfast, the preacher on the radio was in
high gear. I never understood a word he said. To my
ear, the preacher was yelling indistinguishable words and phrases while
being constantly interrupted with a slew of
“amends” and “hallelujahs” from
his overly enthusiastic congregation. Pop Pop sat in his wooden rocking
chair in the sitting room next to the radio, glued to every word the
preacher was saying. He was so attentive that I had no doubt
that he understood what was being said. I assumed that when I got a
little older I would be able to understand too. But that was
not the case. As the years progressed, amen and hallelujah
continued to be all I ever understood. I used to think, how could
anyone understand what was being said with all the yelling going
on? I finally decided that Pop Pop did not really understand
either. It was just something that helped him focus on God much the
same way I did while attending church but not hearing the
for Grandmom was no different from any other day as far as being
attentive to the word of God. She read her Bible everyday
after dinner. I shall never forget how impressed I was with
her religious perseverance when one day she finished the last chapter
of Revelation, closed her Bible, and said to me, "That makes 21 times
that I have read this book from cover to cover." I could not
believe my ears. How could anyone read a book that thick 21
times? I had trouble concentrating after reading just a few
verses. I decided that she had to be the most religious
person in the world. Not only because of the number of times she had
read the "word," but also because she knew so many rules that God had
laid down. Like if you used scissors on Sunday, you would go
to the "bad place." She called hell the "bad place" when she
was talking to children. There was not a single fun thing
that one could do on Sunday without risking eternal
damnation. Sitting on the piazza or visiting relatives on
Sunday afternoon were about the safest activities. My brother
and I would occasionally talk Sister, our Aunt Essie, into taking us to
the beach for a short swim. Grandmom did object but not
violently, which led me to believe that there was some confusion in the
Bible as to just how sinful it was to swim on Sunday.
was so rigid in observing the Sabbath as a day of rest that she cooked
her Sunday dinner on Saturday afternoon. That way all she had
to do was to warm it before serving it after Sister returned home from
church. For supper that evening, we always ate cold leftovers. There
must have been some rule in the Bible about using the cook stove only
once on Sunday.
breakfast, my brother and I dressed in our Sunday clothes. We
always wore a "starched and ironed" shirt, long pants, socks, and
shoes. Sister gave us each a nickel and some pennies to put
in the offering plate. Offering was collected twice, once at
the beginning of Sunday school when everyone in the church met in the
sanctuary for a short service and then when we went to our individual
classes, which were scattered about the church. I never knew
whether God wanted me to give the nickel in the sanctuary or in my
class. I usually gave it in the sanctuary. My brother kept
his to buy candy with at the store on Monday.
took her weekly bath on Sunday mornings in her bedroom. Since
we did not have indoor plumbing, she filled a ceramic washbowl with
water and carried it upstairs to her bedroom. She emerged a
half-hour later smelling fresh as the ocean breeze. She used
Avon dusting powder whose fragrance I always associate with Sunday
morning, just one of many Hatteras memories that I smell. Her
only makeup was Noxzema skin cream and lipstick. For most of
my childhood, her only Sunday dress was a light blue-and-white striped
skirt with a matching jacket and a white blouse. She wore
hose and a pair of white slip-on shoes with low heels. She carried a
small purse in which she carried some change that she gave to the
church when the offering was collected. Also included in the
purse was a half of a stick of gum just in case she needed to freshen
her breath between Sunday school and church. She was a soft-spoken,
non-judgmental person who saw only good in everyone she knew. As she
descended the steps from her bedroom, squeaky clean and dressed in her
Sunday best, she was as close, in my mind, to being an angel as any
human on earth.
minutes before Sunday school began, Damon Junior rang the church
bell. Everyone in the village who attended used this as the
cue to begin walking to church. Sister, Clifford, and I
walked together. By the time we got from the house to the sandy road,
we met Aunt Maude, Aunt Ellen, and Aunt Violet, who were also going to
church. They were not related to me. It was just the custom
to refer to all the women in the neighborhood as
“aunt” and all the men as
Pop Pop, none of the men in the neighborhood attended Sunday school or
church. Actually, very few men in the village did.
I often wondered why religion was more important to the women than to
the men. Many of the children attended Sunday school, but not
necessarily church. My brother and I went only to Sunday
school. Sister stayed for church.
at the church was a noteworthy scene. It was the only day of
the week when you so many people walking on the road from all
directions. Our convergence at the church reminded me of ants
returning to an anthill. Before entering the church, all the
women stopped at the front. While leaning with one hand against the
wall of the church for balance, they emptied the sand from their shoes
with the other. No sooner were we inside the sanctuary than
Damon Junior tugged the rope attached to the bell in the steeple, which
resulted in several rings signaling the beginning of Sunday school.
family member sat in designated areas of the sanctuary, according to
the class of which he or she was a member. Mr. Roy Gray, the
superintendent of the Sunday school, stepped in front of the
congregation. His strong baritone voice echoed from the walls
of the church. It had a pleasing, steadfast resonance that sounded to
me like God himself. He made a few announcements and told us
to turn in our hymn books to number 145. Miss Alice, Damon
Junior's wife, who always played the piano in her stocking feet, struck
several chords as an introduction and the congregation joyfully sang
"The Old Rugged Cross." "Bringing in the Sheaves," another
wonderful old hymn, followed. The voices in the congregation
drifted through the opened windows of the church and bathed the village
with the presence of God. Hearing those hymns sung in the
local dialect caused a lump to form in my throat and tears of joy to
fill my eyes. It was a sound that no longer exists.
With the influx of tourists, radio, television, and other outside
influences, the old Hatteras dialect, the product of many years of
isolation from the rest of the world, is all but extinct.
the offering plates were passed, Mr. Roy asked if anyone had celebrated
a birthday during the past week. Miss Inez, an older lady in
the community, and Ursula, a friend of mine, proudly marched to the
front of the church with their birthday offering, a penny for each year
since their birth. After everyone sang "Happy Birthday," Mr.
Roy read a passage from the Bible, and we sang another hymn before he
dismissed us to go to our classrooms.
Lizzy, a rather stern conservative lady in her early 70s, taught my
brother's class. Clifford and Miss Lizzy were like oil and
water. Nothing my brother did made her happy, and for him the
feeling was mutual.
enmity began one afternoon when Clifford was playing in the branches of
an oak tree in front of Aunt Violet's house. He hid on a limb
of the tree that hung over the road, waiting for some unsuspecting
person to happen along. Miss Lizzy was walking up the road to her home
from the grocery store. When she was almost directly under
him, he dropped a device with an exploding cap in it at her
feet. The loud burst of the explosion scared her so badly
that she threw the bag of groceries she was carrying in the air,
scattering jars and boxes of food all over the road. Even
those who lived on the back road heard her scream.
It never occurred to Clifford that she might react in such a
manner. He thought they would both have a big laugh, and it
would be forgotten. When she discovered Clifford, who was now
somewhat embarrassed and frightened, clinging to the limb above the
road, her shock turned to anger. Clifford knew the moment the
cap exploded that his action was inappropriate, but it was too
late. His only defense was a flat-out denial, swearing that
he had never seen the device that now lay at Miss Lizzy's feet. His
fabrication just added fuel to her volatile state. They were
antagonists from that moment on.
Lizzy began her Sunday school lesson by reading a few passages from
Genesis about Noah and the ark. When she read the part about
Noah being 500 years old when the "begat" his three sons, Clifford
you sure he was that old?"
of course, it says so right here in the Bible," she responded as she
pointed to the passage in Genesis 5, verse 32.
I ain't never heard of anyone living that long," Clifford stated.
Lizzy went on with her story and was interrupted again when she read
the part about the ark being constructed of gopherwood.
really certain but not wanting to appear uninformed, she responded, "It
is a special kind of wood."
I've heard of pine and hickory and walnut and mahogany, but I ain't
never heard of no gopherwood. Nobody around here has a boat made of
gopherwood, do they? Are you sure you read that right?"
I did. It says gopherwood right here in Genesis 6, verse
14." Again she points to the passage while the other kids in
the class snigger. Impatience began to flow through Miss Lizzy's veins.
she told the children about the animals being brought on the ark two by
two, Clifford interrupts again. Laying the foundation for Miss Lizzy's
impending inquisition, he asks, "Where do polar bears live?"
realizing where his questioning was headed, she answered, "At the North
there polar bears on the ark?"
of course, he put two of all kinds of animals on the ark."
he go to the North Pole to get the Polar bears?"
far was it from the Holy Land to the North Pole?"
I don't know. A long ways I guess."
long did it take him to go there, catch the Polar bears, and come back
to the ark?"
Lizzy, a bit aggravated by his line of questioning, pretended she did
not hear him, and she continued with her lesson. Again her challenger
Lizzy, did he have any kangaroos on the ark?"
I told you he had two of every kind of animal."
did he get the kangaroos from?"
suppose from somewhere nearby."
thought kangaroos live only in Australia. Is the Holy Land
Australia is an island continent between the Pacific and Indian
oceans. The Holy Land is a long way from there," Miss Lizzy
proudly stated. Her countenance showed a bit of pride because
she finally had an undisputed answer for one of his questions.
where did he get the kangaroos?" Clifford insisted.
sniggering in the class stopped as the kids sat with puzzled
expressions, waiting to find out just where Noah did get those
kangaroos. Miss Lizzy was backed in a corner, and she knew
it. As a matter of fact, it never crossed her mind to
question anything that she read in the Bible. She just
should not question the word of God," she firmly stated, while shaking
her finger at Clifford and piercing him with her eyes.
a feeble attempt to seem somewhat knowledgeable about Clifford's
question, she added, "But, there are kangaroos all over. They are in
zoos right here in this country. I'm sure Noah had no trouble
finding them where he was."
on with the lesson she went, telling about Noah being 600 years old
when he was told to build the ark; about it raining forty days and
forty nights; about the ark floating for 150 days after the rain
stopped; about Noah's sending the raven and then the dove from the ark
in search of dry land; about the dove returning with the olive leaf,
and finally about opening the ark for all the animals to "go forth and
this point, Clifford jokingly said, "I'll bet that was one stinking
kids laughed, to Clifford's delight.
Miss Lizzy regained control of the class, she concluded her lesson by
reading Genesis 8, verse 20.
Noah builded an altar unto the
and took of every clean beast
of every clean fowl, and offered burnt
on the altar.
being shut up on that ark for 190 days or more, I'll bet he had trouble
finding any clean beasts or fowl," Clifford jokingly added.
class roared. When the laughter subsided, Clifford
interjected his final question before they were dismissed.
"It seems mighty silly to me after going to all that trouble to collect
all those animals and keep them on the ark for more than 190 days that
he would then turn around and burn some of them as an
offering." He paused as the neurons of his brain fired,
resulting in his final query, which he stated as if he was on the verge
of a brilliant discovery. "Is that why there are no dinosaurs
kids in the class looked at each other and back to Miss Lizzy for an
answer. There was a brief silence. Slowly her
expression developed an air of elation that often accompanies the
discovery of a great truth. She confidently
school at the Holiness Church convened at 2 o’clock in the
afternoon. There was just enough time after dinner to walk
the long distance down the road to the church and get there on
time. It was a long hot walk on a road that
consisted of deep soft sand.
Holiness Church was very different from the one we had attended just a
few hours earlier. Compared to the larger Methodist Church, this church
was a small, simple framed building with just two classrooms adjacent
to the sanctuary. The women who attended the Holiness Church
dressed much simpler and had straighter hair that was usually twisted
in a bun on the back of their head. They did not wear
lipstick or rouge. They weighed twice as much as the Methodist women,
and sweated a lot more. Most of them carried a clean, white
handkerchief in their right hand. There were more men in attendance at
this church, but the women still outnumbered the men. Most of
the congregation lived at "sticky bottom."
there was a gentle spirit at the Methodist Church, there were times
when the spirit was completely out of control at the Holiness
Church. Miss Alice never abused the keys of her piano like
the lady did who accompanied us as we sang hymns that
afternoon. At one time she hit the keys so hard that the
floor gave way, swallowing the right back leg of the piano, causing it
to teeter like a seesaw. It must have been an act assisted by
God because the preacher went crazy throwing his hands in the air and
yelling, "Thank-a you, God-a. Hallelujah.
Pa-raise-a his-a holy name-a." That was something else that
was different about the two churches. Mr. Roy at the
Methodist Church spoke English, while Reverend Culp spoke some
variation of English, which almost sounded like pig Latin.
Mama taught me how to speak pig Latin, but the more I listened to
Reverend Culp the more I realized that it must have been some other
kind of Latin. I knew the Catholics used Latin when worshipping because
my cousins used to attend Catholic school, and they told me they heard
one of the sisters speaking it.
at the Methodist Church remained seated during the entire morning
service, but the Holiness folks had as much trouble staying in their
seats as my younger brother did when he was in the first and second
grade. Every time the preacher started speaking whatever kind
of Latin it was that he spoke, people jumped up from their seats, waved
their hands in the air, and shouted along with him, while speaking the
same language. When the women sat back down, I heard the long
wooden pews snap and crack under the sudden weight the church bench had
to bear. However, the benches proved to be much stronger than
the floor under the piano.
best as I could interpret, the topic of Reverend Culp's sermon was that
all of us were going to burn in hell if we did not change our evil
ways. His subject certainly complemented the temperature of
the afternoon. It must have been 100 degrees inside the
small, crowded sanctuary. Midway through the service, I
understood why the women were carrying handkerchiefs and why they were
not wearing makeup. They were sweating so much from jumping
up and down and shouting in the heat that they needed the handkerchiefs
to mop the perspiration from their face. Wearing makeup would
have been a waste of money, since it would have been washed away by
windows of the church were opened in an effort to relieve the heat by
allowing an occasional gust of wind to enter from the ocean.
There were no screens on the windows to prevent mosquitoes and other
flying insects from coming inside. Near the end of the service during
one of the uncommon quieter times, Miss Liza, one of the larger
parishioners, who wheezed with each breath she took, sucked a mosquito
down her throat, which sent her into a coughing spasm. She
coughed so violently that her trachea began to convulse, making it very
difficult for her to breathe. In a desperate attempt to catch
her breath, she jumped from her seat, desperately clutching her throat
with one hand, while waving the other in the air. Reverend Culp
interpreted her actions as having been moved by the Holy
Spirit. He motioned to the lady at the piano to start
playing, "Lord, I'm Coming Home," at which time the entire congregation
spontaneously started singing. No one in the church but Miss
Liza and a few others sitting near her knew just how appropriate that
hymn was. At the end of the service, Miss Liza gave a
heart-rending testimony of how she had stared death in the face and had
survived. Her entire declaration was spoken in the same Latin
that Reverend Culp used throughout his sermon.
I lay in bed that Sunday night, I asked God to bless Grandmom, Pop Pop,
Sister, Mama, Aunt Violet, Aunt Ellen, Aunt Maude, Mr. Roy, Damon
Junior, Miss Alice, Miss Inez, Ursula, Miss Lizzy, Miss Liza, and
Reverend Culp. I asked him to bless my brother, Clifford,
Noah, and all the animals in the ark. I asked him to bless
the people who lived down the road at "sticky bottom" and the people
who lived up the road where we lived. I thanked God for
Hatteras, where I learned so much about life. I also asked
God to send me a sign like the rainbow he sent Noah if Miss Lizzy was
telling the truth about the dinosaurs.